Creating The Space War - The Card Game of My Dreams
I love card games. I have played various card games more or less regular the last 25 years. I started to play Magic: the Gathering (MtG) around 25 years ago and have played it on and off since then. Other card games that I have especially enjoyed to play is Dominion, Race for the Galaxy, 2 player Canasta and Doomtrooper. Other card games that I have played but not enjoyed the same much are Hearthstone and Star Realms.
But the card game that I really by far enjoy the most is The Space War which is my own creation. This game I have played on a regular basis since 2018 and it truly is an amazing game in my opinion.
In this text I am going to go over some of my personal requirements for what I feel is a great card game and how it relates to The Space War.
5 minute video: What is The Space War card game and why do I think it is an amazing game?
Offline Versus Online
The game should be able to be played both offline and online using the same game rules. I very much prefer to play card games offline, with my family or friends. I want to feel the cards in my hand and see the expressions of my opponent. Some games such as Hearthstone can only be played online, some others only offline.
You can play The Space War both online and offline. Playing online is done directly in the web browser without the need to download anything and can be done for free here.
As the online version of The Space War is played in the browser it works in any kind of operating system and any kind of device. Desktop and tablet work well. More work is currently needed for the mobile version.
No Dead Cards
In my opinion a big problem in MtG is that you often draw a card that you have no need for, such as drawing a land card when you don’t need lands or not drawing lands when you need them. A significant amount of tournament matches in MtG has been lost because of bad luck with lands and a number of professional players have stopped playing the game because of this problem.
The Space War does not have the concept of having resource cards (to generate mana or action points). Instead cards are played face down as a resource and any card in your deck can be played this way so you will never have the problem of dead cards. This also means that all the cards in The Space War can be played in several different ways.
If a player can counter, interrupt or play cards in the opponent's turn the game is more interactive and more exciting but it brings challenges when the game is played online. Hearthstone that is only online is designed in such a way that you cannot do anything at all if it is not your turn, you just sit and look and see what happens. MtG online has the reverse problem in that you often need to click some tedious pass priority button very often or turn on automation (default in MtG Arena) which might reveal that you don’t have certain cards in the hand.
I did another approach in The Space War. You can counter and play certain cards in the opponent's turn but to do so you first pause the game (your time will tick down) and then you can counter cards that was played the last 10 seconds before you pause - or cancel the pause (bluffing, pretending that you had a counter card in hand). If a card is countered the game state is rewind in time to the moment the card was played. This solves the problem if an opponent plays several cards quickly after each other. It solves the problem with tedious pass buttons and it solves the problem about revealing card info from the hand. And it also simulates offline play: “you played 2 cards too quickly and I did not have time to react and counter the first one”. This time rule is used the same in The Space War offline and online. You play a card and if the opponent does not react in time it will be too late to counter it.
Hearthstone and MtG is mostly a pay-to-win game in my opinion. The player that had spent most money to get better cards has a much bigger chance to win then the person with cheap common cards.
With The Space War both players has access to the same cards and the focus goes from which cards you have to how do you play your cards, especially since the cards can be played in several ways. This also goes for the cards that you have drawn to your hand - less focus on which cards you have in hand and more focus on how you play your cards in your hand the best way.
Also all the cards in The Space War are more or less equally good (of course depending on the game situation).
Luck, Random and Variation
When I tested Hearthstone I had a dislike for the amount of randomness of the cards. Several times I played a card and it turned out to have a negative outcome for me. I specifically remember the time I played Mad Bomber and he dealt 3 damage to my own hero making me lose the game. I understand that Hearthstone has taken the design decision to focus more on fun and entertainment but I really dislike that personally. For me it feels too much like a game for children (nothing wrong with that, but not for me).
The player should play the game, the game should not play the player. And in The Space War you can really affect the progress and direction of the game, you are the one playing it.
In many other card games the player won because of luck of the draw - this is rarely the case in The Space War.
The only random element in The Space War is the order of the cards in your draw pile. And that is sufficient randomization to create a great deal of variance in the game. Different games play out very differently which is a great deal of fun and makes you want to play the game again and again.
But a beginner of the game still has a chance to win over an experienced player - it is a delicate balance which I think The Space War does well.
What is truly new with The Space War compared to MtG, Hearthstone and other combat card games?
- There are no resource cards. All cards can be played as a resource card if played face down in 3 positions (your station) and those cards determine for each turn: amount of cards you draw, amount of actions you receive and your hand size limit.
- There are also no life counters. When you get damage you simply flip station cards and if all has been flipped you lose the game - simple.
In MtG you normally only draw 1 card each turn and a card that lets you draw 3 cards for a cheap cost, Ancestral Recall, is considered one of the best cards ever printed and is banned in all formats except one. That is not fun. I realised that the reason I liked competitive Doomtrooper 23 years ago was because you were drawing a lot of cards and had a lot of interaction. A competitive game of Doomtrooper could last 20 minutes and maybe only had 2-3 rounds - but you played 50 cards and had an intense experience!
I really took this to my heart when I designed The Space War - it should be easy to draw cards.
Complexity: Easy to Learn
How many minutes/hours or amount of plays does it take for the players to "get" the game and know how to think in order to try to win and enjoy playing?
The complete rules that explain how to play The Space War consists only of 1016 words at the moment of writing this (the basic rules of MtG is 3386 words). Great efforts were made to reduce the complexity of the game and make it simple to play. Originally there were for example no commander cards and the powers of the commanders were included in the rules - moving those rules out to cards was a brilliant idea. Many rules have also been removed or made more simple.
A game should be so simple that it simply "plays itself" but still provide a depth for experienced players.
Replayability: Still fun after more than 10 plays?
Most of the board games that I have bought and played (more than 50) take in average a one time study of the rules and then one play for us the players to learn the game and then we play and enjoy it a number of times, for example 5 times. Then it sits on the shelf and is not being played again.
Why don't we play those games anymore? Because once you have learned the game, the play experience does not offer very interesting decisions while you play. Everybody does what they are supposed to do in a kind of automatic process and in the end we will see who wins mostly determined by luck.
But some games ... they get better after each time you play it - but probably will not offer a good experience at all the first number of plays. Examples of such great games are in my opinion: Chess, Race for the Galaxy (example of a guy with 15000 plays) and Tigris & Euphrates (example quote).
And only one game in my collection has been able to offer me a great play experience, the first number of plays and a great experience more than 200 of plays later: Dominion. Reason is because you select which cards to play with, it offers a great variance of the game and the game plays fast and offers interesting mini-decisions on each and every turn.
One of the reasons why someone wants to keep playing a game again and again is because they feel that they are getting better at the game. I think Star Realms is a good game but it is very simple (which can be a good thing). After you have played it around 10 times there is not so much more to learn or practice and it gets boring quickly in my opinion.
When a card or board game only offers the player very few decisions on the player's turn or offers many options but it is obvious which one is correct the game gets boring.
A game should offer minor interesting choices to the players, constantly all the time. But a single choice should not have a huge impact (such as a small mistake leading to a game loss 4 turns from now without a way to recover) - that will lead to analysis paralysis.
In a card game it should not be obvious which cards you play from your hand and in what order. Often it is like that in MtG (not all decks) but not in The Space War - in that game you can choose to do different things each with each own pros and cons.
It is a very delicate balance. Too simple and it gets boring. Too complex and it leads to analysis paralysis. Tigris & Euphrates is one of my absolute favorite board games and the balance in this aspect is perfect, another great example of a game I love is The Castles of Burgundy. And I am also happy to say that The Space War has the right balance as well (in my opinion).
I have played The Space War hundreds of times and I am always looking forward to playing a new match.
Tournaments and Rating Score
I did a study of how the rating systems ELO and Glicko works and why MtG turned away from ELO (no incentive to keep playing if you have a high rating). I developed my own simple rating system for The Space War. Here is the Leaderboard for The Space War and you can see my simple formula at the bottom.
Low Setup Time
More important than what people might think. In my case for example with 3 kids it is not easy to find a slot of time to play card and board games. MtG and The Space War have just a few minutes of setup time (shuffle each deck and draw your start hand). Dominion might seem to have a short setup time but in our house it is at least 20 minutes by opening all the boxes and having a discussion/selection process to choose which 10 cards to play with.
Tension, Excitement and Challenging
Pandemic: Iberia made my heart beat very fast with huge excitement a number of years ago. We played with the Influx of Patients challenge and had not won a single time - we had lost 7 times in a row. My wife told me that it was not possible to win without cheating and that it was designed in a way to make you lose right before winning. I wanted to prove her wrong and she gave me one final time to play the game together. This time we were so close and we could make it if all players helped each other and did all the perfect moves. And I could prove to my wife that yes, it is in fact possible to win in that game.
That level of excitement with a board game only happens a few times in a lifetime.
Many games that I played The Space War with my son was truly an amazing experience with a lot of tension and excitement. Each player was sure to win but the opponent pulled off some kind of miracle and turned the stakes around.
I remember one game in particular in which my son proclaimed to have won the game and stood up from his chair. But I kept sitting down and thought for a minute and told him that he actually did not win and I could pull off something really creative. There is often a way to turn the game around and win no matter how far you have come behind. It is not over until it is over.
I created this game with my son and he is truly a talented player. When I play and I am on the way to lose I say to myself that I will win if I just play really good and make the correct decisions.
Runaway Leader Problem
Many board and card games have the problem that the player that first gets a small advantage in the game gets an additional advantage by the game itself making it almost impossible for the opponents to catch up. For example Monopoly (get good streets with luck, collect income which enables you to build to further increase your income) and Settlers of Catan (build settlements to get income so that you can build more settlements to get more income).
Dominion has this problem but in reverse! To win you need to buy those nice green victory point cards - but they make your deck worse, making it easier for your opponents to catch up. A very clever design.
In The Space War when you get damage the opponent flips your station cards - but those cards still empower your station and when they are flipped you are able to play them giving you more options to catch up versus the player that has not received damage yet.
Length of Play
An ideal length of play for a card game is around 20-40 minutes in my opinion and a turn should just take a minute or so. This is also how I designed The Space War to be. Of course some games are shorter and some longer but on average 30 minutes I feel is just right. If you want to play more you simply play several times.
Games that often are shorter do not build up the same suspense and longer games have the risk that you cannot finish in time before you need to do something else (such as eating). With a game time of 30 minutes you might also have enough time to play a match in your lunch break at work if you eat quickly.
Several Ways to Win
I really like games which offer several ways to win, such as Race for the Galaxy. In The Space War you can win by doing uncommon things such as discarding the cards of the opponents draw pile (milling), using many small spaceships, missiles or a single very strong attack. You can focus on control, card advantage, speed, combos, station size and many other tactics.
To participate in a small local MtG tournament playing the modern format and have any chance to win at least a few times (having fun) requires a deck of cards with a cost of $800 - $1500. And those cards and specific deck might only work for 2-3 years as the meta changes, cards getting banned and so on. Also consider that it might take a considerable amount of time (months) to get hold of the cards you need, although for some this is part of the game experience. The situation is similar in Hearthstone.
In The Space War you get all the physical cards directly for a one time cost of less than $50 (I don't know the final price yet). Playing online is free. All cards will always be offered for free printing on the website. When a publisher will publish this game in the future I will make sure this will be allowed in the contract, else no deal, sorry for them.
Making Money Is Not the Objective
This game is my long term passion as well as a father-and-son project. I want it to become great and popular. It would of course be nice if the game has some decent income to cover the costs so far and make it possible to do some paid marketing. But if the game is not having any significant income I would just keep on going and rely on free marketing of the game (word-of-mouth) - I would not mind that much. I already made a good amount of money from other types of work, projects and companies.
I already turned down one investor that wanted to invest in the game. If I accept investors they want to have a positive return on their investments, meaning money, and they will push me to do things that will not align with my vision of the game. That the game brings in money is not what is important for me.
I don't want the game to be seen as a "cash grab", which happened to for example the Artifact card game and several others.
The game should be easily portable in a small box that can be carried in a backpack if you travel, visit friends etc. With Dominion this can be possible if you preselect which cards you want to play with - but the opponent might not agree with your selection.
This is possible with The Space War and of course with most other card games as well.
Video of the Game
I'll include a video here where I show The Space War for those interested:
Keep in mind that this was the first video ever made about the game, a single shot with no cuts and no editing (I need to learn that). More videos available on thespacewar.com/videos
Several Decks, Constructed, Draft etc
The Space War currently has 3 preset decks to choose from. When playing constructed players have free access to all the cards and build their own deck. The draft format might also be a possibility in the future. By having other game formats such as constructed and draft it creates further variance of the game. Me and my son have started playtesting the constructed format and it has been an absolut blast to play.
Normally in similar battle card games the cards are divided in factions, classes or colors and there are normally some restrictions or difficulties if you want to use cards from several of them in your constructed deck. This is not the case with The Space War, use any cards to make your deck. The game will loose some thematic flavor for doing this but provides a more diverse pool of cards for deck building which is a net positive in my opinion.
No Strictly Better Cards
Strictly better describes a card which is, in isolation from other effects, superior to another card in at least one respect, while being worse in zero respects. One example out of several hundreds in MtG is Mana Drain being strictly better than Counterspell.
There are no Strictly Better Cards in The Space War. All cards are good.
Creating This Game Is an Absolute Crazy Undertaking
I took the decision in summer 2018 to create this game and make it a success.
I took this decision despite knowing the following:
- I have little money to spend on this "hobby project" as my wife calls it.
- I have 3 children and a full time job. I can only work on this a few hours per week in the late nights and on the weekends.
- It will take years to complete.
- It will most probably not be a success commercially, If I would spend the time doing SEO and web development work I would be able to win much more money. A commercial success is a very low probability.
- My family will probably lose interest in the game but I need to keep on going.
I took the decision anyway. I took the challenge. This challenge is like a game for me and I will win it.
And I kept going year after year. It takes a certain amount of willpower and a strong decision to not give up. I don't play computer games, I don't watch TV (movies from streaming sites occasionally) instead I put my extra time to work on my game, when I am not with my kids ...
The hardest is in the beginning ... play testing a shitty prototype of the game with "cards" that you made with pencil and paper ... constantly changing the rules and convincing your family to please play again and again, that I did not change rules because I lost etc etc. I passed that phase thank god.
I came a long way, me and my son love to play the game.
Wish me luck :)
I Need Help
Please help me out if you can. Help spread the word, tell somebody else that might be interested about this article and or the game (TheSpaceWar.com). Thanks.
I can pay but my budget is limited, I need the following people:
- Playtesters, play for free here. Please provide feedback in the Discord.
- Music/sound person than can arrange or find better music and sound effects for the online game.
- Video editor that can help me create great looking videos of the game.
- A marketer that can help me get the minimum 10K active players online.
- A developer that can make the game work on mobile phones (native app?).
- Somebody with good and successful experience with Kickstarter that can advise me in the process to create a successful campaign.
- Person that can help me with Kickstarter fulfillment.
- Somebody with experience in the physical printing process.
- Somebody that can help me to put the game on Amazon.
If You Read This Far
Then you must have some kind of interest. Create your account for free on TheSpaceWar.com and follow on: Discord, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit - Thanks!
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